Yardley, Monday 10 September 2001
Here comes the conductor. He takes the tickets of the passengers who have just boarded at Princeton Junction (njtransit.com/sf_train.shtm).

What is next is a wondrous punching ritual. Every ticket gets 1, 2, 5 or 278 holes and disappears into his shirt pocket. To me it is a mystery what all this punching is good for. Origin and final destination are on the ticket already. What is the added value of the punching?

Every passenger gets a new ticket in the seat in front of him, this time with mysterious numbers. The conductor makes a work of art of this one as well, with none, one, two or three holes. Some tickets get torn at the top, some don't.

The meaning of all this punching and tearing remains a big riddle to me. I desperately try to decipher the code.

  • One hole per person? No, some couples have two tickets with one hole each. Some individuals have three holes.
  • An indication of the destination per group of passengers? Maybe.
  • So, what is the tear in some tickets good for?
  • And why does the conductor collect tickets during the journey? Is that for the passengers that will disembark at the next station?
A number of trips to New York only deepens the mystery. Obviously there is no standard system. Probably every conductor exploits his own artistic freedom. The only common aspect is that the conductor collects all tickets just before the journey ends.

There is only one conclusion that fits all the facts: Checking tickets is just a side job. The truth is that these conductors are artists, advanced decorative punchers. The train is their mobile studio, en route to New York. The Big Apple must contain a gallery somewhere where you can buy all their works of art.

Till next week,